The Rapidian Home

Artist feature from UICA: Jordan Gaza

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

Jordan Gaza graduated from Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University's Illustration program in 2016 and has been living in Grand Rapids ever since. Primarily working digitally and with gouache paint, Gaza's illustrations are both vulnerable and sincere.
Wolves of Suburbia, 2017

Wolves of Suburbia, 2017 /Courtesy of UICA

Underwriting support from:

Jordan Gazza's work is showing in UICA's Fulton Street Exit Space.
See Gaza's work in our public gallery Jan. 15 - March 15, 2018.

Jordan Gaza

Jordan Gaza /Jon Clay

Art by Jordan Gaza

Art by Jordan Gaza /Jordan Gaza

Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts invites you to learn more about West Michigan's creative workforce, neighboring cultural organizations, and about ways to engage with Grand Rapids' art-scene with interviews and guest features highlighting our local and regional community members. Visit for monthly interviews.Give us a short bio.

I graduated from Kendall College of Art and Design’s Illustration program in 2016, and I’ve been living in Grand Rapids since. Before that, my family and I moved around a lot and we didn’t stay in one place for too long. Drawing and painting were a few of the constants in my life when I was young. I primarily work digitally and with gouache paint.

How would you describe your work?

Self-conscious, messy diary entries. It’s my way of communicating with people, since I’m really bad at sincerity in a one-on-one context. My illustration is a vulnerability that I hope people can find some of themselves in.

Do you consider yourself a muralist? If so (or even if not) how did you start your career as an artist who works in a public space?

Honestly, I don’t consider myself a muralist at all. Most everything I make is very personal, and I’m a reserved person in general, so the idea of making something large that everyone would be seeing made me nervous. I enjoyed my experience, though. It was a learning process, translating my smaller paintings and drawings onto a large surface. I think I would like to do it again sometime.

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?

This is going to sound really stupid, but the concept of the geologic time scale has influenced me quite a bit. I first learned about it in a geology course I had to take when I was nineteen. The geologic time scale is basically the layout of the entire history of the planet, from the formation of the earth to modern times, broken down by eons. If you were to squash this time frame down to the size of a football field, the entirety of modern humanity (so, that would be the past 200,000 years or so) would measure to about the width of a blade of grass, .08 inches.

Maybe it just seems like kind of a bummer, but it’s always been a liberating concept to me. There’s a sense of absurdity to it. We are a blip on a mote of dust screaming through space toward oblivion, so we might as well be nice to each other and try to make things we like.

Do you have a piece of work that stands out in your mind as something you are exceptionally proud of or that is particularly important to you?

I don’t have a singular piece that I’m particularly proud of. Everything that I paint or draw is kind of an experiment for myself. I have similar themes and images that I always go back to, but generally, I try to push myself a little every time I make something and step out of my comfort zone in one way or another.

I used to start stuff and then never finish it. I’d just give up if it got too hard or I didn’t know how to accomplish something. I’ve gotten a lot better about pushing through to make completed images or projects now. It’s kind of like working out or having a difficult conversation with someone -- You really, really don’t want to do it, but you go and you do what you need to do because you know you’re probably going to feel a lot of relief when you’re through. Once I’m done with something, I put it aside and then I start the process all over again.

What new projects do you have on the horizon?

I’ve started doing little gouache paintings of people that I see on the street, like if they have a cool outfit or if I like the way that they carry themselves. I’m terrible at dressing myself, but I like the idea of fashion and I like how some people can just look so cool and comfortable and make clothing seem so effortless. I’d like to continue that as a larger body of work, and maybe make a small publication out of it.

I also just want to try and keep making stuff, period. I had this attitude for so long that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t a “real” artist. I know that that’s bullshit now, and I’m constantly fighting this sense that I’m a giant phony. Just writing all of this about what I make and why I make it is so weird. I want to just keep applying for gallery shows and jobs without really thinking about if I necessarily qualify for them.

What do you want others outside of the creative workforce to understand about careers within the arts?

It takes a lot of self-discipline to do art and try and make some sort of living off of it. I mean, it is something that I genuinely enjoy doing, but I also have to structure my own time in a way that’s productive. It’s a lot harder than it seems, especially since most people are used to the external structure of a job or school. You have to set goals and schedules for yourself, keep yourself motivated, and actively market yourself and your work at all times. It’s not one of those jobs you can leave behind at the end of the day. There seems to be this general misconception that creative professionals, especially those who lean more toward the fine art camp, are blithe and insubstantial. It drives me crazy.

What are you passionate about besides your work?

I really enjoy reading. Adjusting to not being in school was a little difficult at first, but once I figured out I suddenly had all this free time and I could use a big portion of that to just read whatever the hell I wanted, was amazing. I keep buying more and more books and adding them to my “to read” pile. My tiny bookshelf is literally overflowing. The best thing that I have read in a very long time is Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. It’s so compelling and terrifying in a way that I can’t even wrap my mind around fully. I want to make a drawing or a painting about it, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

What’s the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others?

Lists are handy. Make a list of things that you have to do throughout the day (even if it’s just mostly stuff like “Take a shower before 11 am”, “Clean off desk”, “Hang up all those coats and sweaters that are accumulating on the loveseat” or anything like that) and work through it. You feel a little accomplished when you’re done, and it makes going through the day a bit easier.

It works with big tasks, too. Breaking down things that I have to do into lists of smaller components makes them less overwhelming and much more manageable. It’s something that’s proved very useful in my personal and professional life.

Where can we learn more about you?

At my website

The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.